Sun and Venus do their dance

LIHU‘E — Fasten your seatbelts: An astronomic event of stellar dimension is only days away. On Tuesday, Venus will be passing between the Earth and the Sun. The event won’t happen again until 2117.

“This is really exciting,” said Rozlyn Reiner, associate director of Kaua‘i Educational Association for Science and Astronomy.

Mercury and Venus are the only planets in our solar system that orbit between the Earth and the Sun. Mercury is quite a transient in the space between us and the Sun, but Venus is a bit more shy in that neighborhood.

Reiner said eye protection must be worn at all times when observing the event, and sunglasses won’t do it. Telescopes must be equipped with solar filters and viewers must use special solar shades.

Transits of Venus occur more than a century apart and then in pairs eight years apart, according to a press release by Kaua‘i Museum. This will be the eighth time Venus has passed between the Sun and Earth since the invention of the telescope and it is the last time in this century that the event will be witnessed.

Because of the Earth’s tilted axis, the daylight event can only be seen in only certain parts of the globe. Venus last passed between the Earth and the Sun in 2004 but the event was not visible from Hawai‘i. The last time transit could be viewed from Kaua‘i was in 1874.

In 1874 the Hawaiian Islands were chosen by the Royal Observatory, with funding from British government, as one of the key places on Earth to view the transit of Venus, along with Egypt, Island of Rodriquez, Kerguelen Island and New Zealand.

On Dec. 8, 1874, the transit was observed by British scientists at Waimea, Kaua‘i, and also at Honolulu and Kailua-Kona. The observation at Kailua-Kona was marred by clouds but the Honolulu and Waimea sites were considered perfect throughout the event, which lasted a little over half a day.

In honor of the event and of the last transit viewed on Kaua‘i, Kaua‘i Museum’s Transit of Venus 1874 Exhibit is open to the public through the end of August.

On Tuesday, KEASA will be providing at the museum a safe viewing of the Venus transit, including viewing through solar-filtered telescopes and eclipse shades.

Kaua‘i Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The private nonprofit museum is at 4428 Rice Street in Lihu‘e. Call the museum at 245-6931 for more information.

Activities for Venus transit

• Kaua‘i Children’s Discovery Museum and KEASA present Astronomy in the Mall, in the “Jam Room” at Kukui Grove Center. Skylab planetarium programs and viewing of the Sun through solar-filtered telescopes. Saturday.

• Exhibit on the Venus transit and historical significance for Hawai‘i at Kaua‘i Museum in Lihu‘e. Ongoing.

• Safe viewing at Kaua‘i Museum — KEASA members Dr. James Natland, Barbara Fontana Natland and Rowan McGrath will have telescopes with solar filters set up for transit viewing outside the museum. Tuesday.

• KEASA observatory at PMRF — For KEASA members holding a visitor pass with KEASA stamp for observatory access. KEASA will be viewing and recording the transit from their observatory site, using various telescopes and imaging equipment. Tuesday, noon until sunset.

• U.C.C. Waimea Church Patronage and KEASA will be working together to provide an educational experience, with opportunities for safe viewing of the Venus transit, near a site where a British expedition viewed the Venus transit in 1874. All are welcomed. Tuesday, 11:30 a.m. until sunset.

• Kaua‘i Community College in the Russian Fort in Waimea. There will be a public observation of the transit, sponsored by KCC Physical Science Department. Interested students and the public will be instructed in the use of telescopes, and the physics background of the Venus transit that was/is used to calculate the dimensions of our solar system. All are invited to visit KCC “outdoor classroom.” Tuesday, noon until sunset.

• KEASA astronomer Donn Starkey will be observing and recording the transit in Princeville with a Lunt solar telescope. He has invited any KEASA members and student associates to participate. Tuesday.

• NASA EDGE will air a live “remote” webcast from Mauna Kea at venustransit.nasa.gov/transitofvenus/ and at sunearthday.nasa.gov/2012/transit/webcast.php

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